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Honey Money #2- Beginner Beekeepers Guide to Setting Up Your First Bee Hive

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Show Notes

Join Nicole and Drake Larson in part three of Honey Money. Learn about different hive styles and how to set up your very first hive!

What You’ll Learn

  • What is the difference between Langstroth, Top Bar, Warre, AZ or Slovenian, and the Flow Hive?
  • Choosing 8 or 10 frame Langstroth
  • How to setup your new hive
  • Choosing plastic foundation, wax foundation, or going foundationless
  • Words of encouragement for new beekeepers

Our Guest

Drake Larson is a family attorney in Pueblo, CO. When not practicing law, he possesses a deep curiosity for things unfamiliar to him. Drake spearheads the exciting commentary and asks many common questions that new beginners ponder.

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    Announcer: Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast from Where we talk about all things, backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now here's your host Nicole.

    Drake: And welcome back to episode three of Honey Money. On today's episode we're going to explore the lifestyles of the humble bumblebee. Now, Nicole, I've heard it said that the leader of a beehive is known as the queen and much like many royalty may attest to, the queen bee, has a wide variety of homes, mansions, manners, and hives. Can you please begin to explain for dear listeners the variety of options the queen bee and her keeper may have?

    Nicole: Well, first of all, I feel the need to apologize to the listeners. And second of all, we're talking about honey bees, not bumblebees.

    Drake: I'm not going to do that voice anymore. I'm sorry. I was just I was on a riff. I had to go. All right. Please tell me... Tell the listeners when you got a honeybee, what kind of boxes can you put them in, what do you got?

    Nicole: Hive styles. The most common and the one that we see pretty universally is the Langstroth hive. And that's the typical square box that you stack up and they come in two different options. You can either have an eight frame or a 10 frame and that's pretty much what everybody uses. It's been around forever and it's just kind of the-

    Drake: The bee's knees.

    Nicole: It is in fact the bee's knees. So the eight or 10 frame options, and then there's some variations and we can talk more about the different things with the Langstroth and how to get it set up and stuff. That's an entirely another episode and of itself.

    Drake: So we have Langstroth, and I know we're going to do a deep dive on another episode because that is just the most interesting thing I can think of. But I guess what I want to do is, I want to go over all of them and then recap the pros and the cons before we really dive in. Let's go like... Give me a quick, what are the names? What are we talking about? What do we got?

    Nicole: Okay. So, Langstroth is the one we already talked about. Top-bar, Warre, and AZ Slovenian. And then there's several other different little niche ones or whatever. There's the eco box and there's a cathedral hive. But those are all more smaller scale. The the ones that we listed are what most people would at least start out with in their first year or three.

    Drake: Okay. And so again, because this is geared towards the amateur keeper, what would you recommend for somebody just starting off? What's cost effective? What's easy? I mean what are the pros and cons? What do you think?

    Nicole: So the Langstroth hive is going to be probably your best route. It's the most easily accessible. It's kind of, I would say it tie with the top-bar as far as simplicity to make it home. I'd say it's probably also a tie between the lang and the top-bar as far as the initial cost. But the thing with the Langstroth is you can get a lot more accessories and things for them they're universal. So if you buy lang parts from Mann Lake, you can also buy Langstroth parts from Dadant and they should work together just fine as long as you make sure that you get eight frame equipment. If you have an eight frame hive and a 10 frame equipment, if you get a 10 frame hive.

    Drake: And you said that the costs are comparable. What are we looking at for a Langstroth or a Top-Bar?

    Nicole: So a Langstroth most of the time they'll sell like a starter kit where you would start out with obviously your bottom board, a deep box and usually a medium box and then your inner cover and a lid. And prices vary depending on if you want it assembled, painted, whether or not you have to have it sipped or if you buy it locally. But I would say from $150 to $200 each the last and only I guess top bar that I've ever purchased, I paid $250 for it. But the thing with the Langstroth starter kit, those two boxes, you're going to need to expand upon that. But with the top bar, that 250 I got everything that I needed.

    Drake: So the top bar may cost a little bit more as a package, but it's going to last you longer. I can get you further.

    Nicole: It'll last longer just in that you don't need to add anything to it. But Top-Bar bee keeping some people say it's a little more challenging. I know I've experienced some challenges with it, but that's mostly because I can't get bees stay in it long enough to really get it going. But-

    Drake: okay. What about these other... You said there's the Warre and the Slovenian and I think why would I ever buy one of those if you just gave this glowing recommendation to the top bar?

    Nicole: So the top bar and the langs are really especially common in the US, the top bars also sometimes called the Kenyan top bar, you could potentially, if you got really creative, make your own. So people that are budget conscious, I mean really you could make a top bar out of some scrap material and catch a swarm of bees and effectively get started into beekeeping for zero cost. Whereas with the Langstroth, you have to buy specific material that go. The frames have to be a certain size so there's more expense there. But the Warre and the Slovenian, those are especially more common outside of the US-

    Drake: Why? Just cultural preference?

    Nicole: Yeah.

    Drake: Is it a geographical thing.

    Nicole: So if you've ever seen online, like there's the pictures of a flatbed trailer with brightly painted hives on it, those would be your Slovenian or you can use the Slovenian hives and they'll make a barn, a shed. And the advantage of that is the beehives are tightly packed together. So in the high alpine areas they are better conserving heat so that it's a little bit more, I guess it's a little easier. A hive out in the middle of the field by itself in the high alpine would have a harder time with their more regulation than if you stacked them altogether.

    Drake: So if our listeners are in America but they're in a slightly colder climate, might they consider a different hive or is it's not enough.

    Nicole: I would still stick with the Lang. My personal opinion is your Langstroth or your top bar is the beginner recommendation and then after you've been doing it for a while and you want to try some different things, then you could branch out into the Warre or the Slovenia. I don't have either one of those yet, but that's my next step as I want to try them. If nothing else, just to try them. One hive that I forgot to mention earlier that we should talk about is called the Flow Hive. And the flow hive is basically a Langstroth hive that has a special box, the honey super, and you can harvest honey by the turn of a dial. So basically you turn the dial and it has these special frames in it, so they open a gate and honey pours out.

    Drake: So you have a tap for honey.

    Nicole: Yeah. It's honey on tap. I think that's actually what they call it. There's a lot of people that hate them and then there're people that love them.

    Drake: Why would anybody hate them? It seems convenient and easy?

    Nicole: Let me preface this by saying I've never used one. So I cannot speak from experience. I can only talk about things I read on the internet, which is always true.

    Drake: [inaudible 00:07:01] is he is the best [inaudible 00:07:02]

    Nicole: Yes. So there's some people that don't like it because it has a lot of plastic components. It's not the best for the bees and that it's full of plastic and material like that. And then it also encourages beekeepers not to be beekeepers. So instead of having to open the hive and see how they're doing and see how their honey production is, there's people that say, "Well if you can just put out the box, have the bees in there and then go pour honey out when you want, you're not being an actively engaging beekeeper."

    Drake: So the elites beekeepers say that's easy mode and it doesn't count. Is that over simplifying things? Would you say that flow hives are just easy mode?

    Nicole: They are, but I would recommend that people at least look into them a little bit more instead of going that route. Because easy doesn't necessarily mean the best.

    Drake: Okay, let's really focus in, you said that you recommend the Langstroth or the top bar. If I'm listening to this, I want to blow-by-blow, step-by-step. What do I have to do to set this thing up? Start us away. What do we need to talk about here?

    Nicole: So you can really take a lot of different avenues on Langstroth hive. There's a lot of different components and a lot of different ways to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Now keep in mind that you just need to find what works for you. And if you go online and if you ask questions, you're going to get a whole bunch of different answers. And I would say try something, see if you like it. And if you don't, switch it up because there's a lot of different variations on things.

    Nicole: So the basic beginner kit, like I said, comes with the bottom board, a deep box, a medium box, and a cover, and a lid. And that's just the basic basic. As your colony grows, you're going to need to add additional boxes for brood and or honey. So we should probably start, I guess with whether or not you want to buy an eight frame or a 10 frame starter kit. So the difference is obviously just the number of frames inside. There's no difference in like a deep 10 frame box and a deep eight frame box are still the same depth.

    Drake: And I'm going to be really dumb here. What exactly is a frame?

    Nicole: So a frame is the divider kind of thing that goes inside of the box where the bees build their comb.

    Drake: And you said an eight and a 10 are exactly the same depth. So what's the difference? An eight and a 10 besides the number of frames. I mean what does that mean to me? Why would I want a 10 versus an eight?

    Nicole: So some people say that they don't want to get a 10 frame because the bees don't really use the two outer boxes. They only use the eight frame... Or I'm sorry, the two outer frames, they only use the eight frames to begin with. The eight frame is lighter than a 10 frame. But one way that you can overcome that if weight is an issue, instead of buying an eight frame, you can still buy a 10 frame and then if you have to move the box and you just take the frames out individually, so then instead of moving 60 pounds, you're only moving 10 pounds at a time or whatever it may be.

    Drake: How much does each frame cost? Excuse me, weigh?

    Nicole: Well, it depends on what's in it.

    Drake: Okay.

    Nicole: I told you there are no simple answers.

    Drake: I'm sorry. I need to stop asking for simple answers. Fine. What would you recommend? Would you recommend an eight or a 10 frame?

    Nicole: Well, I'm not done talking about it.

    Drake: Please continue, I apologize.

    Nicole: So if weight is also an issue, there's other ways around it. I use 10 frames. I personally like 10 frame boxes just because in my experience the bees have utilized the entire area. You can also take things a step further and use a 10 frame box and put eight frames in it and then use a spacer. So if you get 10 frame, you decide you want to do eight frames, you can do that too.

    Drake: So get a 10 frame and then you can customize it to your heart's desire. Awesome. What else... Okay, so we've got the Langstroth, we got the 10 frame. What else do I need to know?

    Nicole: So when you order them online, you'll either order them assembled or unassembled. I work a lot, so I always buy everything assembled for those that are more handy or have a little bit more time or just want to, you can buy them unassembled. They're not difficult to put together. I just genuinely don't have time for it. So you should buy hives that have finger joints instead of the rabbit joints because as wood warps over time the finger joints will stay together better and they'll just last a little bit longer. And then most of the time the Langstroth are made out of pine. You can find potentially cedar ones. cedar ones will last longer, but it's pretty much just going to be a pine. So, pine doesn't do well just out in the elements. So you will need to paint them again you can buy them pre-painted, pre-assembled, so you just add bees. If you do decide to paint them yourself. Just a side note, do not paint the inside of the beehive, only the outside where it would get exposed by weather.

    Drake: And is this painted like a sealant, or is it a cool color? Can I get racing stripes on my beehive?

    Nicole: Well, I mean, this's your beehive. You can paint however you want.

    Drake: I'm going to have a racing stripe.

    Nicole: Yes. But you want to paint them a lighter color because they're out in the sun. You don't want to paint it a dark color where it's going to get super hot inside. So in addition to painting your beehive, you can use a product called Eco Wood Treatment and it's usually available on most of the beekeeping websites. I treated my top bar with that and it seems to be holding up pretty well. It's not a paint, it's almost more like a stain, but I believe it has copper in it. So it just prevents the wood from degrading out in the sun, but it's totally free of chemicals. So it's good to keep chemicals away from your bees as much as possible.

    Drake: But in theory if you buy it pre-assembled, It already has some paint on it you don't need to worry about?

    Nicole: Well, there's a difference between pre-assembled and pre-painted. You can buy a pre-assembled unpainted.

    Drake: So basically when you buy it, if you want it to be pre-painted make sure it stays pre-painted.

    Nicole: Yes.

    Drake: That makes sense. That's pretty basic. Okay. So, we got our hive, we got the right wood, we got the right finger joints, we got the right eight or the 10 we got the paint. What else is there?

    Nicole: Oh but wait, there's more.

    Drake: Oh gosh. There always is. Here we go.

    Nicole: So bottom boards. There are solid bottom boards and screened bottom boards and so with everything there's lots of debate on whether or not you should use certain ones and when you should use them. I use a screen bottom board. For me, this is part of my integrated pest management program. So there's a screen on the bottom. So if the bees were to pull a mite off of a sister or whatever, and drop the mite, then the mite falls through the screen on the ground and goes away. You can also use... Actually put the board back in and close it off if you need to or put the board with some sticky paper and use that for an estimate on mite counts.

    Nicole: But I also like it because it gets so darn hot here. We've had temperatures in a 120 but it's usually over a 100 degrees in the summer. So the screen bottom board helps with some ventilation and I leave my screen bottom boards open in the winter to help reduce condensation inside of the hive. But then I don't use a landing board, there's the little lip on the screen bottom board is plenty. To me the bottom boards are just a little bit more for aesthetics.

    Drake: Okay. And that's the bottom board discussion you've put, we've laid to rest.

    Nicole: Yes.

    Drake: You heard it here first folks, get the screen, winter or summer. What else do we got?

    Nicole: So working up through the hive, we could talk about whether or not to use foundation inside of your frames and-

    Drake: I think my wife puts that on her face.

    Nicole: That is one kind of foundation.

    Drake: What other foundation are we talking about?

    Nicole: So, foundation in this case, literally being the base in which they build off of, like foundation of a house. So I personally use foundation less, no foundation. I just put empty frames and the little guide on the top and let the bees do their thing. I like to try to keep bees with as little chemicals and human intervention as possible.

    Nicole: So I just let them build the way that they want to build. And that allows me to create honeycomb itself without any manufactured wax in the middle. And also lets the bees create their own cell sizes, whether or not they want to make brood comb out of it or whatever they can pick whatever size they want to make. You can also, if you choose to use foundation, there's waxed foundation, which is a pressed wax with obviously the honeycomb pattern and it's got wires in it.

    Nicole: There's plastic foundation, there's waxed plastic foundation with just plastic foundation with a layer of wax on it. There is just plain plastic. I don't know if I said that one yet. That is just plastic with no foundation. Then you can get different colors of plastic, black plastic so that it's easier to see the eggs or just the regular white plastic. In my experience, bees don't like the plastic. They won't build on it. So if you're going to use foundation, I would suggest from my own personal experience to use a wax foundation, not waxed plastic.

    Drake: But you can get away with no foundation at all.

    Nicole: Yes.

    Drake: And that's how you prefer it?

    Nicole: That's how I do it for my own personal beekeeping practices.

    Drake: Okay. All right. Then moving right on up from the foundation. What do we have next?

    Nicole: Queen foundation less. I don't use... Well, maybe I should say what are queen excluders. So queen excluder is a metal screen for lack of better terms that goes between your brood box and your honey super. So where the bees put their eggs and where you want the bees put the honey to keep the queen from going into the honey super and potentially laying eggs where there should be honey, I don't use one.

    Nicole: And just because I've never had experience with the queen going into the honey supers and putting any eggs up there. I always leave two boxes, two deeps for a brood chambers. And that's apparently been enough to make them happy because I've never had them go up. But then that goes back to the hole. I want the bees to be bees. So if they decide to go up there then so be it. So I don't use those. There's also the potential that it might not even work if you have a smaller queen and she could still wiggle her way up to the honey super.

    Drake: So, the impression I'm getting from you here. Is it safe to say that you take more of a minimalist approach to your beehive?

    Nicole: I do. I consider myself instead of a beekeeper, more of an apartment manager. There's some things that I do get pretty involved in as far as splits and I want to dabble in making queens and stuff. But after the bees are queen right in their colony, for the most part, I just want them to be bees and do their thing.

    Drake: You take a hands off approach at that point?

    Nicole: For the most part.

    Drake: And would you recommend that the listeners follow suit? I mean it sounds like a personal preference thing. They may do it their own way, but at least for the very beginner, is that an easier way to do things?

    Nicole: The problem with the beginners is they're so excited to get the new hive that they're going to want to be really hands on and they're going to want to be digging around in there a lot. And the more that you see and the more that you experience, the more you're going to learn. I'm not saying by any means that I'm an expert. Some of it is a combination of, I work a gazillion jobs and I don't always have time to micromanage them as much as I might like. But outside of population management I'll say with preventing swarms by doing splits and things like that. I like the idea of having happy bees. Basically, be centric beekeeping. So I want the bees to just be bees without micromanaging them. And it's okay, you can laugh publicly.

    Drake: Be bees. That's great. That's-

    Nicole: Basically, I want the best honey possible and I feel one of the greatest ways to do that is just to let the bees do what the bees would do naturally.

    Drake: Okay. And you talked... In your spiel just a moment ago, you talked a little bit about some maintenance you can do, splitting the hive I think you said or splitting the bees swarm. We're going to talk more about maintenance in a different episode. Right?

    Nicole: Yeah.

    Drake: Once you get it all set up what you have to do on a day-to-day or the week-to-week. So we'll get to that. I want the listeners to know we're not just crossing over it.

    Nicole: Yeah.

    Drake: So maybe let's get back to the hive itself. We went over, we just covered foundation or was there something else we covered?

    Nicole: So yeah, we got foundation and queen excluders.

    Drake: Queen excluders. What comes after queen excluders?

    Nicole: So in my mental approach of moving up through the hive here. Let's go back to the bottom because I forgot this one, entrance reducers. When you very first install your bees, you should put an entrance reducer on there. So basically if you're, again, using a Langstroth hive, the entire width of the bottom of the hive is access for them to come in and out. Well, when they're first getting established, especially if you're starting out with a swarm or something that's a smaller population, I like to use the entrance reducer on the smallest setting, especially, if you did a split or installed a new queen, because you don't want robbers coming in and killing your colony. And if it's small, then it's not going to be able to defend itself well. So if you put an entrance reducer on, so they only have the smaller entrances two bee widths.

    Drake: That sounds very small.

    Nicole: It is. But it's also easier to defend.

    Drake: So you're not quite, but you're almost locking the bees in there while they get established.

    Nicole: More like putting up a fence for them to keep-

    Drake: Okay, great. So is there a point down the road that you expand that opening then? What do you look forward before you do that?

    Nicole: And we can maybe talk about that more under-

    Drake: Maintenance services?

    Nicole: Yeah.

    Drake: Okay.

    Nicole: But as their population grows and they'd be able to defend that larger area, then you can open them up.

    Drake: Okay. So we went back to the beginning. We have this be entrance excluder. Let's go back to the queen excluder. What happens after that?

    Nicole: So one of the other thing would be a feeder, which is a whole episode in and of itself, but I will just say that if you're installing a new package or a new swarm, or even a nuke because you're moving them to a new area, you should feed them for let's just say a week or so, something to help them get started until they're able to find the lay of the land and find resources. But please do not use a boardman entrance feeder and we'll talk more about feeders later. But just for right now, boardman feeders use a Mason jar and this little platform that just slips into the entrance so you can access the Mason jar from the outside and see how much is in there. But I can almost guarantee you that you're going to cause robbing and the loss of your colony with the boardman entrance feeder.

    Drake: Boardman entrance feeder. Don't do it.

    Nicole: Don't do it.

    Drake: You heard it here first. All right. Feeders. We covered feeders?

    Nicole: As much as we will now. Yes for now.

    Drake: Okay [crosstalk 00:23:04] we have [crosstalk 00:23:06] coming up. Okay. What have I gotten myself into? All right. What comes after feeders?

    Nicole: So from there I would say most of the time, it would just be your inner cover and your telescoping lid that goes on top here because it gets too hot and if it gets into the, I would say mid to high 90s or higher in your area, I would recommend upper ventilation screen. You can buy pre-made ones or you can make one. There's a bunch of different options, but if you have your screen bottom board on the bottom that's open ventilation and your screened upper inner cover, then it just creates a better ventilation and helps the bees cool down especially at night and decrease bearding and stuff.

    Nicole: And then from there the telescoping covers what pretty much everybody uses. You could use a migratory cover, but telescoping is what just backyard beekeepers use the [inaudible 00:24:13] the migratory covers for commercial beekeepers. You can use it. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's not directed towards backyard beekeepers. And then after that, just make sure that you put something on top of your entrance... Oh gosh, make sure you put something on top of your inner cover... Make sure, you put something on top of your telescoping lid.

    Nicole: Things like wind and critters and stuff can knock that lid off. So you need, I just use a... Just like I said a block thing, or you could use a painted carton filled with sand or just whatever. Even a strap if you needed to keep it from falling off or getting blown off or whatever. You have nothing else. At least you can say, even if you don't want to use a solid bottom board or whatever, at least you know what it is. And just keep in mind that as you go through the catalogs and talk to people online, there's just about an infinite number of options as far as high of configurations. Just start with something. Don't get overwhelmed with all of the options and "Oh my gosh, I don't know if I need this or if I need this or what I'm supposed to do."

    Nicole: Because keep in mind there's a million different variables, which means that the bees are really adaptable. So they'll make brood with whatever you give them. You're not going to mess up. You're not going to give them something that they can't work with. Some things just make your life a little bit easier. The bees really don't care too much within reason what you give them. Some of it's going to make it easier for you. Some of it is going to make it more comfortable for the bees or whatever. But if bees weren't able to adapt to so many different options, there wouldn't be so many options. So just don't get overwhelmed with all the choices. Get something and just get started. And you can always change it later, but you don't know what you like or what works best for you until you get started. You can only take so much from other people and and you just need to find your groove.

    Drake: Great. Well, all right then, as always, we have our contact information at the bottom. I'm Drake Larson and this is Nicole.

    Nicole: Any of you guys have any other questions in addition to our contact information, you can always check out our Facebook group that we just started. Friends of Heritage Acres Market on Facebook and start some discussion on there and ask questions about hives or anything else that you've heard on our show and thanks for listening and we'll see you again next week.

    Announcer: Thank you for listening the Backyard Bounty, a podcast by Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the show, please email us at and ask at also find us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Heritage Acres Market. All the links mentioned in this podcast will be included in the description. See you again next week.

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